Church, barangay to suppress vulgarity in Baliw-Baliw Festival in Cebu

Max Limpag

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Church, barangay to suppress vulgarity in Baliw-Baliw Festival in Cebu

DEVOTION. Emergency responder Mark Anthony Jumao-as poses at the Lapu-Lapu City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office after rushing a patient to the district hospital. Jumao-as is a Baliw-Baliw festival devotee and credits San Vicente Ferrer for his 'second life.'

Anyone cross-dressing in a bikini, brandishing a dildo, or displaying a tray of cow manure in Barangay San Vicente in Olango Island, Cebu will be removed from the fiesta celebration, its barangay captain warns

CEBU, Philippines – Church and barangay officials have agreed to stop what they described as “law-ay” or vulgar practices of the Baliw Baliw Festival held to mark the fiesta of the namesake barangay of San Vicente Ferrer on Sunday, May 26.

The Archdiocese of Cebu ordered the Olango parish to work with the community to suppress these practices after church officials were scandalized by photos and videos of the revelers that went viral on social media last year. The images showed men wearing bikinis and carrying around dildos and wooden phalluses to celebrate the fiesta of San Vicente Ferrer.

The barangay has formed a task force to implement provisions of an agreement between the barangay and the parish. There are four groups in this task force, Barangay Captain Edilberta Eyas Lambojon told Rappler in an interview. They have also sought assistance from the Philippine National Police and the Lapu-Lapu City Government.

Marciano Arong, a lay volunteer of the parish, announced last Sunday the new guidelines on the festival.

Arong said Olango parish priest Fr. Edgar Lumarda explained to residents that a fluvial procession, which is the root of the Baliw-Baliw Festival, is similar in character to processions on land. It should be religious and solemn.

Fr. Lumarda also suggested to residents to revert to the old Sakay-Sakay or fluvial festival.

LAST YEAR. Emergency responder Mark Anthony Jumao-as in last year’s Baliw-Baliw Festival. He is shown with Lapu-Lapu City Councilor Anabeth Cuizon.

Lambojon said the church wanted more stringent restrictions but she suggested that they prioritize banning the most scandalous and outlandish components of the revelry: men wearing thongs or bikinis, the brandishing of dildos and realistic phalluses, and the display of cow manure being passed off as food, such as pizza, for sale.

They also required all the vessels joining the Sakay-Sakay or fluvial procession to play religious music such as the gozos of San Vicente and not the funny songs of such Bisaya music mainstays as Yoyoy Villame and Max Surban.

Lambojon said they could not ban drinking of alcohol because the revelers have already been drinking by the time the festival starts. She said many locals were angered by the restrictions but they would still be implementing it.

Residents in the community believe that if the Baliw-Baliw Festival is stopped, people will get sick and die. Even the pious, who hold their noses at excesses in the festival, said in an interview with this reporter last year that people should just let them be.

In 1936, then Olango parish priest Fr. Trienekens stopped Baliw-Baliw because it “looked funny.” In July that year, 50 people died of cholera, starting with the children and followed by their parents, according to a paper by former University of San Carlos anthropology professor Harold Olofson.

“We prayed to St. Vincent and the disease gradually diminished. The next year, baliw-baliw was resumed, without comment from the priest. It is a way of warding off cholera,” residents told Olofson in his paper “St. Vincent and the Thunder-God: Narratives of Play and Apocalypse in Relation to a Central Visayan Island Fiesta.”

Olofson’s paper was published in the Saints and Fiestas issue of the Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society in March-June 2002. The quarterly is published by the University of San Carlos.

Olofson said Baliw-Baliw was some sort of “play-inversion” on tabooed subjects that has links to what Fr. Francisco Ignacio Alcina observed among residents of Samar in the mid 1600s. Olofson said, “These were very likely pre-Hispanic in origin and beliefs held by Olango Islanders at that time may have been very similar to them.”

Alcino said Baliw was the name of the thunder god able to transform people into beasts and cause disasters. A “daetan” or male transvestite had the capability to manage the offerings to Baliw to avert punishment and disasters.

Olofson said research showed that in Olango Island, the pre-Hispanic thunder god and San Vicente Ferrer have a syncretic fusion.

“Vincent Ferrer in life was concerned with the salvation of souls and their preparation proper to an avoidance of hell and attainment of heaven in the after-life. The Olango Islanders, on the other hand, are much more concerned in their folk Catholicism with the maintenance of the health and security of their community in this life, with its identity (which it has largely as a result of the uniqueness of its fiesta), and with the well-being of specific individuals in the community, especially of its children, pregnant mothers, and childless couples,” Olofson wrote in his paper.

We will comply with the new guidelines, said Mark Anthony Jumao-as, a Baliw-Baliw Festival devotee who works at the Lapu-Lapu City Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (DRRMO).

Jumao-as, who wore an animal print two-piece bikini in last year’s Baliw-Baliw Festival, said he will wear just a duster this Sunday and put on makeup and a wig.

Attending the Baliw-Baliw Festival is a devotion for Jumao-as. He said that when he was 16, San Vicente Ferrer was instrumental in a life-changing decision that he said led to his “second life.” He has been joining the festival since.

The experience of Jumao-as is a variation of one of three ways, according to Olofson’s paper, that people get drawn into the Baliw-Baliw Festival: 1) through an illness in which a devotee makes a vow to perform in exchange for recovery and future protection; 2) through a dream in which San Vicente asks for the performance; and 3) inheritance of a vow by a blood relative or in-law.

The “utin utin” or play with phallic symbols was started by a family celebrating the recovery of a member from a prostate illness, said Lambojon. It was acceptable then because the phallic symbols were made of coconut and bamboo. Now they use dildos, which makes it scandalous, said Lambojon. –

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